The ques­tions that 800m video app devo­tees should be start­ing to ask

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce - By

YMichael Cog­ley ou should only use vi­ral video app TikTok if you are happy for your data to be ac­cessed by the Chi­nese state. At least, that’s ac­cord­ing to US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo who ear­lier this month said he is con­sid­er­ing a ban on the app in the US amid fears it could com­pro­mise na­tional se­cu­rity.

The com­pany, which has 800 mil­lion users glob­ally, claims Pom­peo’s al­le­ga­tion is “com­pletely false”.

TikTok’s col­lec­tion of sen­si­tive user data have fu­elled fears it could be used by Bei­jing as a sur­veil­lance tool or for pro­pa­ganda pur­poses. Given the height­ened con­cern around the app, should you delete it on your phone?

What is TikTok?

Owned by ByteDance, a Shen­zen­based tech­nol­ogy start-up, TikTok has been down­loaded more than 2bn times since its launch in 2016.

It has be­come the first Chi­ne­se­owned social me­dia plat­form to at­tract a mass following in Western coun­tries, where it is used by tens of mil­lions of teenagers to share vi­ral dance rou­tines, sketches and lip sync­ing videos.

In the UK, the app is ex­pected to break 10m users by the end of next year, up from 4.9m in 2019.

What are the ma­jor concerns about TikTok?

The US govern­ment fears that TikTok could be com­pelled to hand over user data to the Chi­nese govern­ment – a claim the com­pany has re­peat­edly re­futed.

There are some who also fear that the Chi­nese govern­ment could gain ac­cess to TikTok data through spy­ware with­out the com­pany’s knowl­edge.

In­deed such risks led to Ama­zon urg­ing its em­ploy­ees to delete the app.

The New York Times re­ported that Ama­zon told work­ers in an in­ter­nal email to stop us­ing the app due to “se­cu­rity concerns”.

How­ever, it quickly back­tracked on the stance, in­sist­ing the mail had been sent in er­ror.

TikTok also prompts more con­cern than other social net­works be­cause has a large pro­por­tion of young users

– and many be­lieve it is not do­ing enough to pro­tect them.

The Daily Tele­graph re­cently re­vealed that pae­dophiles caught groom­ing chil­dren on the site were only re­ceiv­ing one-week sus­pen­sions.

The com­pany says it takes safety se­ri­ously for all of its users and that it was in­tro­duc­ing new mea­sures to pro­tect younger users.

How much data is col­lected?

The com­pany starts col­lect­ing data the minute you down­load the app. It tracks the web­sites you’re brows­ing and how you type, down to key­stroke rhythms and pat­terns.

Names, ages, pho­to­graphs and videos are all taken by TikTok, ac­cord­ing to its pri­vacy pol­icy. In­deed so too is in­for­ma­tion you have put in a mes­sage to an­other user, the type of de­vice you’re us­ing, and your lo­ca­tion.

If you de­cided to link your TikTok ac­count with an­other net­work like Face­book, the app can also col­lect data from that ser­vice, ac­cord­ing to its pri­vacy pol­icy.

“The prob­lem here is not the quan­tity of data that’s be­ing col­lected, but rather who else can ac­cess it. And those prob­lems ex­ist on the end of data trans­mis­sion that no one but TikTok can see,” said Oded Va­nunu, head of prod­ucts vul­ner­a­bil­ity re­search at Check Point Soft­ware Tech­nolo­gies.

US of­fi­cials haven’t pro­vided any proof pub­licly that TikTok is shar­ing in­for­ma­tion with the Chi­nese govern­ment.

The com­pany says Amer­i­can user data is stored in servers in the US and Singapore, not China.

TikTok’s terms of ser­vice do, how­ever, stip­u­late that the com­pany may share in­for­ma­tion with its par­ent, sub­sidiary or other af­fil­i­ate.

Should I delete TikTok from my phone?

“We know that Google and Face­book col­lect a lot of the same data, but they use it to make more money,” said Kirsten Martin, pro­fes­sor of tech­nol­ogy ethics at the Univer­sity of Notre Dame’s Men­doza Col­lege of Busi­ness.

“The prob­lem lies in not know­ing what TikTok is do­ing with the data, if they are ma­nip­u­lat­ing it and whether the data is go­ing into the hands of an ad­ver­sary.”

How­ever, Pom­peo’s sug­ges­tion that us­ing TikTok es­sen­tially means you are hand­ing over your data to China re­mains un­proven.

His crit­i­cism must also be viewed in the con­text of the on­go­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal ri­valry be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Bei­jing.

Whether or not se­cu­rity fears around TikTok are sub­stan­ti­ated, there may be other rea­sons you want to delete it from your phone, such as its safety pro­to­cols for chil­dren.

And, given the range of concerns cir­cu­lat­ing the app, the choice of delet­ing it may soon be taken out of users’ hands.

Tiktok stars in­clude Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal satirist Meg­gie Foster

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